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Retirement planning, investing different in pandemic

LANSING — Not being able to work was an issue for the thousands of Michiganders protesting the state’s stay-in-place orders at the Capitol.

But now, many retired people are starting to struggle, too.

Especially in a time where millions are collecting unemployment benefits, financial security is at a premium during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diane Young, a board member of the Michigan Financial Planning Association, said it’s a very different economic situation from the recession of 2008-09.

“This was the quickest 35% drop we’ve ever experienced at the stock market,” Young said. “So with the Great Recession, it was more like letting air out of a balloon.

“But if it goes on and on, for months on end, I think we’ll have a different situation,” she said.

Young’s Rochester Hills firm, she says, usually deals with more affluent clients. People who are living paycheck-to-paycheck or on a fixed income, like many retirees, are in more trouble now.

Paula Cunningham, the state director for AARP Michigan, said, “Financial security is something we talk about a lot.”

“The fastest-growing community is 65-80 years old,” according to Cunningham, who said financial security for the elderly in Michigan has to be an ongoing topic for conversation, even during the pandemic.

According to U.S. census data, Michigan has more than 1.4 million people over 62, the minimum age to collect social security, a common source of income for retirees.

Social security benefits are continuing during the pandemic, Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul has confirmed.

But family-owned businesses are closing left and right as some older owners are dipping into retirement funds sooner than expected.

As stock prices plunge and local businesses struggle due to the state’s stay-at-home executive order, AARP and organizations that act as financial planners and managers are shifting their savings programs that include retirement funds, struggling 401(k)accounts, portfolios and individuals’ spending habits.

“We will be developing virtual workshops in Michigan. But at this point, that is done by our national office,” said Mark Hornbeck, the communications director for AARP Michigan.

Young, who is the president of the Athena Financial Group, says the firm has adjusted its workshops and training by moving entirely onto Zoom.

“I try to make sure the content is as fresh as possible and easy to digest. When times get like this, we try to over communicate with clients,” Young said.

“We pick up the phone and call our clients. Nothing works better than a one-on-one talk to calm the fears. We also have personalized emails that go out every week with performance reporting to clients.”

Young said most of her clients initially panicked once the economy grinded to a halt and the stock market dropped but have relaxed as the stock market has risen about 16% since the initial 35% drop.

Kenneth Dominic Benzie, 90, from Norway Township in the Upper Peninsula, simply answered “yes” when asked if it’s been a tough financial situation for him.

Benzielives on a fixed income, using social security and investments he set up himself, and his stocks have taken a hit, he said. But at the end of the day, he says, “I’m still alive.”

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